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Researchers seek to discover what really happens when a virus enters the body

A well-respected researcher who is now a chief of an immunology laboratory of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has rocked the boat in the past few years for the experts in the understanding of the autoimmune system.

NIH's Polly Matzinger has developed the "danger model," suggesting that the immune system is more concerned with damage detected on the basis of a biological cell's death than with the introduction of foreign invaders, such as viruses. If Matzinger is correct, then decades of scientific and medical diagnostic thinking could be in jeopardy.

As immunologists consider the relatively new concept, a new NIH grant, awarded to Amy Bell, an electrical and computer engineer (ECE), and Karen Duca, a research assistant professor at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI), both of Virginia Tech, could answer some of the questions about the human body's responses to viruses. Viruses cause a number of diseases, from the common cold, to herpes, to AIDS. Even some types of cancer have been linked to viruses.

Prior to Matzinger's model, the common assumption was that the body's cells recognize substances or germs that do not come from within the body. The recognition triggers the immune system's attempt to eliminate the invader. What the immune system actually does, according to Matzinger, is discriminate between things that are dangerous and things that are not. And it does this by defining anything that does damage as dangerous. Through this selectivity process, the immune system does not respond to things that don't do damage.

Examples she uses to support her thesis that the body recognizes some invading substances are not dangerous include the development of a fetus during a woman's pregnancy and the production of milk by lactating women.

So the question remains: do we really know what a body's host cell does when a virus infects it?

Bell and Duca's collaboration is an attempt to profile the host-virus sy
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Source:Virginia Tech


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